This month’s Signature Sip selection is Sierra Nevada Celebration 2018. This beer is among the most eagerly anticipated annual offerings from Sierra Nevada: a fresh hop IPA (India Pale Ale) in classic West Coast style. The malt backbone is classic Sierra Nevada, with just enough richness and sweetness to float the hops along. The hops are, of course, the big star, and this beer offers up the three Big Cs: Chinook, Centennial and Cascade.
Sierra Nevada calls this beer a Fresh Hop IPA, and contrasts that with Wet Hop IPA and Dry Hopped IPA. This isn't just marketing fluff, although you can be excused for thinking so. Hops are the cone-like flowers of humulus lupulus, which is related to sativa and hemp. Hops are a natural preservative, which is why they were added to beer in the first place. The added flavors they present are a literal bonus.
Most hops added to beer are added in pelletized form, where they are kiln-dried and pressed into concentrated pellets to help stabilize them for several months, because hop oils degrade rapidly and we don't brew beer just when hops are fresh. Wet hops make it off the vine and into the beer within 24 hours of being picked, and Fresh Hops from one to seven days after being picked.
Immediately upon opening the bottle, this beer presents a strong hop aroma, giving us both pine and citrus notes. A vigorous pour down the center of the glass yields a rich amber brew a shade darker than their flagship Pale Ale, topped by a fine-textured head. This beer is almost all about the hops, and that becomes more obvious after the first sip.
The malt base is medium dry, with minimal sugar, and the hops are bright and astringent matching the carbonation. Like all Sierra Nevada beers, this one is bottle conditioned, which means that at bottling, the brewery adds a little bit of sugar and a little bit of yeast to naturally carbonate the beer. Bottle conditioning outside of the world of beer occurs primarily in champagne,in a process perfected by the widow Clicquot (hence Veuve Clicquot). In the case of Celebration, a little bottle conditioning pays off bigly, with the flavors coming together effervescently to dance all the way down to your belly in a refreshing burst of gustatory pleasure.
The finish is crisp and clean with a taste of pine that lingers pleasantly. The lace stays on the glass, and if you want to refresh the nose with a swirl of the glass, it's no quicker said than done. It’s a mouthful of pine needles and bitter orange caramel that you don’t want to stop drinking. Think of your best fall day, then think of closing it with a nice bonfire with the pine sap from a green limb popping in the fire, and you can begin to approximate a hypothesis about an idea concerning the intense brightness of the flavors present herein.
This beer is a perfect accompaniment to any primal cut of meat, grilled or baked fish or a big salad. As with all IPAs, remember to drink fresh and cold and don't cellar, and avoid spicy food unless you want heat amplification from the hops.
Alex Ignatiev is the proprietor of Hub City Beers and Fine Cigars in Hattiesburg. Wishing Butch Bailey a happy retirement, Ignatiev salutes the Original Timber Beast and Stokes Distributing who provides promotional consideration for his piece.